two people standing at start of a trail

News | 8 months ago

Outdoor Adventurer Overcomes Heart Condition, Completes Appalachian Trail

Meet Jayne Fought, a 57-year-old resident of Brevard, North Carolina, with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Thanks to Atrium Health Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute’s expert cardiac care, Jayne finished hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Jayne Fought has always loved the outdoors. She enjoys hiking, triathlons,  ultramarathon running, mountain biking and rock climbing. She also has a passion for educating people about the outdoors. She teaches adults about backpacking, canoeing, map and compass navigation, outdoor safety and backcountry cooking. 

Seven years ago, Jayne began experiencing symptoms that affected her active lifestyle. During physical activity, she had shortness of breath, felt lightheaded and had chest pain. Years of trips to her cardiologist and negative test results led to ongoing frustration.  

“My symptoms limited my activities and stopped me from running,” Jayne explains. “I had to transition to some different activities, like canoeing, rock climbing and hiking. I was always able to adapt to my symptoms while not understanding what was wrong.” 

Jayne’s family had a history of cardiovascular health issues. For example, her brother and father both had coronary artery disease. Her uncle died at age 42 from heart issues and her father had a quadruple bypass.  

In 2021, Jayne and her husband, Clyde Carter, decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. Spanning 14 states, this hiking trail extends nearly 2,200 miles between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine.  

“It's interesting because I say the trail almost killed me. But at the same time, I think it saved my life,” Jayne says. “On the trail, my symptoms ramped up and got much worse.” 

While hiking through New York, she struggled to climb a hill. She couldn’t go up 20 steps without having to stop and catch her breath. In addition to her breathing issues, she had a pinched nerve in her neck that was causing her pain. Her resting heart rate increased 65 to 85-90 beats per minute. These symptoms caused her to take a break from hiking.  

At one point on the trail, Jayne remembered that her mother had a heart issue before passing away from cancer. She was able to track down her records and learned that her mother had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) with an obstruction.  

What Is HCM? 

HCM is a complex and potentially life-threatening heart condition that affects millions worldwide. It causes the heart muscle to become abnormally thick, making it harder for the heart to pump blood effectively.

“HCM is the most common inheritable condition involving the heart muscle,” explains Dr. Dermot Phelan, director of The Gragg Center for Cardiovascular Performance at Atrium Health Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. “It affects about 1 in every 200 to 500 patients.” 

Because HCM can manifest in many different ways, it requires a team of experts to provide care. Jayne began researching HCM Centers of Excellence and found Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. She was impressed that the doctors were focused on helping patients manage their cardiac condition while maintaining an active lifestyle.  

Center of Excellence 

Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute’s nationally recognized HCM program is the only comprehensive Center of Excellence in the region to address HCM. This dedicated team of experts includes cardiologists, exercise physiologists, genetic counselors and cardiovascular imaging specialists. They work together to provide personalized care and support to patients with HCM. 

“This is an exciting time because there are multiple therapies for HCM under investigation,” Phelan notes. “We are running multiple trials and looking at potential complications that patients with HCM tend to have.” 

Jayne’s doctor referred her to Phelan, who put her on a two-week heart monitor. The monitor revealed ventricular tachycardia, which is a fast, abnormal heart rhythm. Those results, along with her symptoms, led Phelan to diagnose Jayne with HCM the day before her 56th birthday. 

Phelan recommended an implantable cardioverter defibrillator and a pacemaker for Jayne. He also prescribed a medication that reduces the obstruction of blood flow leaving the heart’s left ventricle. This allows her to be active on the trail without feeling chest pain or shortness of breath. 

One-Stop Shop 

“One of the advantages of coming to our center is that patients have a menu of care options available to them,” Phelan explains. “The patient can come in for a one-stop shop, getting all the necessary testing and provider visits done at one location – on the same day. We have lots of patients who travel long distances, so offering that availability and expertise makes life easier for them.” 

Jayne, who lives 2 ½ hours away from Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, has appreciated the convenient care provided.  

“I love the fact that I can do everything I need to do under one roof and usually on the same day,” Jayne says. 

She also appreciates the collaboration of her medical team.  

“It's amazing to know that they're all there at the same place and able to communicate with each other,” Jayne explains. “They're all working together to treat me as a whole individual.”  

Cardiac Checklist 

Jayne recommends the following to other patients coping with a cardiac condition:  

  • Take your symptoms seriously. Remember that HCM symptoms are very individualized and may develop slowly. Don’t write them off as simply meaning that you’re out of shape or a little overweight. And don’t just dismiss them as part of the aging process. 

  • Know your family history. Reach out to family members and find out if heart problems run in your family. Collect information about their symptoms, diagnoses and treatments. 

  • Get tested. Make sure you have a cardiac stress test done to see how your heart reacts to exertion.  

  • Listen to your body. Once you get your condition diagnosed and under control, continue to monitor your heart rate and perceived rate of exertion to make sure you’re not overdoing it. 

“HCM is certainly not a death sentence, and you can still do the things you love,” Jayne explains. “You may have to adapt the way you do them or modify them slightly. But you can still live a full life. You just need to take things one day at a time, one mile at a time.” 

Climbing to the Top 

Along with her exceptional care from Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, Jayne credits her successful recovery to Clyde’s support and patience.  

“He knows my symptoms well enough to gauge how I’m doing just by noticing the way I’m breathing. When I'm struggling on the trail, he gets in front of me and paces me slowly. That’s why I call him my beta blocker.” 

Jayne and Clyde summited Mount Katahdin on Sept. 22, 2023, marking their completion of the Appalachian Trail.  

“It feels like an amazing accomplishment,” Jayne says. “But the most amazing thing about this experience has been the people we met along the way and the relationships we formed. It has been incredible to hear people's stories and share the journey with this community.” 

Learn more about expert cardiac care at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. Learn more about Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute’s HCM program.